Temporal Discounting and Cognitive Abilities in a Developmental Sample
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Temporal discounting (TD) is the tendency to choose smaller, immediate rewards over larger, later rewards. Temporal discounting choices were studied in relation to cognitive abilities and self-control rating measures in a sample of children and adolescents aged 8 to14 years. First, we evaluated TD choices using measures typically used in the literature (indifference point, area under the curve, and k-value), and explored their association with developmental level, cognitive abilities (comprised of IQ and executive function) and self-control ratings by parents. Second, we developed a novel way to study TD choices: categorization of choices into Now (consistent preference for immediate rewards), Switcher (switching from immediate to later rewards), Later (consistent preference for later rewards) and Random (random selection of immediate and later rewards) groups. The Now and Switcher choosers were the most frequent, and these groups were compared on cognitive abilities and the self-control ratings. Results indicated that the indifference point, area under the curve, and k-value were not associated with developmental level, cognitive abilities, or self-control ratings. The Now and Switcher groups had significant relationships with developmental level, cognitive ability measures and self-control ratings. These findings suggest that, at this period of development many children may not recognize the competing choices in this task. Those children who do shift (“Switchers”) seem to recognize that waiting is a better option in at least some cases, and Switcher status was associated with cognitive abilities and self-control ratings. The relationship between TD and sex was also explored. The implications of assessing TD in developmental samples is discussed, including a comparison between TD and delay of gratification paradigms.